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 The Brancatelli File

joe I'M SPEECHLESS
(WELL, ALMOST...)


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

July 18, 2002 -- Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the sheer volume of random airline acts of stupidity and callousness. Or maybe it's just the accumulated outrage. But this week I find myself speechless, unable to form the words--and find the well-chosen adjectives--to fully explain what the airlines have been doing since last we met in this little corner of Cyberspace.

So with my deepest apologies for not being the swashbuckling wordsmith you have come to expect, consider the following airline news items and apply your own adjectives of disgust and revulsion.

BILLIONS FOR A BAILOUT, BUT NOT A PENNY FOR SECURITY
Former Secret Service man John McGaw was unceremoniously ousted today as head of the Transportation Security Administration, the agency created by Congress last year to overhaul the nation's aviation security. During his six-month stint, McGaw exhibited some regrettable management habits and a startling lack of political savvy. But he also doggedly and honorably refused to consider ducking either of the deadlines the nation set to federalize security screeners (November 19) and to examine every checked bag for explosives (December 31). That rigid commitment to doing what the American people demanded was part of his downfall. So was the fact that he wanted more funds for airport security than the suddenly squeamish Congress wanted to appropriate. Congress complained that McGaw didn't grovel enough and didn't sufficiently document his requests for additional security funds. Of course, this is the same Congress that granted the airlines an unprecedented $4.5 billion bailout--a taxpayer-funded, no-strings-attached gift of more than $17.50 per citizen--without a shred of documentation.

MOM, GRANDMA, APPLE PIE AND FARE INCREASES
Several major carriers tried to raise fares over the Fourth of July weekend. The attempt failed, but at least four airlines responded last weekend by eliminating their senior-citizen discounts. However, they steadfastly deny they'll be raising fares from the North Pole on December 24.

IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE IN-FLIGHT BAGS OF PEANUTS
Speaking of fat guys who fly, Southwest Airlines offered the nation a practical application of its policy of allowing employees to unilaterally decide if large passengers must purchase two seats. A Southwest agent in Indianapolis barred a purportedly overweight couple from flying after each refused to purchase an additional seat. However, the couple had flown on Southwest to Indianapolis from their home in New Mexico and no Southwest employees at the originating airport had a problem with the passengers' size. Because the couple could not fly home on Southwest due to the decision of the Indianapolis employee, they endured a 30-hour bus ride home. Southwest never explained how much fatter the passengers were in Indianapolis than they had been in New Mexico.

DON'T BLAME ME, I'M THE JUST THE CEO
Major U.S. carriers began reporting their second-quarter earnings this week. Needless to say, the red ink is flowing freely. American Airlines lost a staggering $495 million, pushing its first-half loss beyond the $1 billion mark. Delta Air Lines' second-quarter loss doubled to $184 million. Northwest lost $93 million. But the most interesting results came from Continental Airlines. After repeatedly insisting in recent months that it would turn a second-quarter profit, Continental reported a quarterly loss of $139 million and admitted it would continue to lose money for the foreseeable future. But Continental chief executive Gordon Bethune refused to accept responsibility for the wildly inaccurate predictions or the second-quarter loss. "We're only as good as the dumbest SOB in our business," he explained. "There's absolutely no reason why we're not profitable today except that our competitors refuse to act like rational people."

SADLY, MUGABE ISN'T EVEN THE DUMBEST SOB IN THE BUSINESS
Speaking of the oblivious bosses, Zimbabwaen dictator Robert Mugabe diverted a London-bound Air Zimbabwe flight to Madrid so he and his wife could connect in the Spanish capital for a flight to Cuba. Unfortunately, no one told the 100 or so passengers of the diversion when they boarded the flight in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. When the aircraft landed in Madrid, Mugabe and his wife disembarked, but Spanish officials refused to let any other passengers off the plane. The travelers remained trapped in their seats for more than five hours while the Air Zimbabwe plane sat on the blazing hot tarmac of Madrid's Barajas Airport.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.